All Boys

To Those Who Pitied Me For My Third Son

From family to strangers, everyone had something to say.

A boy draws with chalk in the driveway of his home.
Photo by Brian T. Evans/Moment/Getty Images

When the bloodwork came back, your dad and I laughed. A third boy! Let the wild rumpus start! That night on the back porch, we cheers’d with your elated big brothers, blue ice cream cones that dripped and stained our hands like Smurfs. We talked about what we’d name you, all the things we’d teach you.

But amid the joy, already I was steeling myself for the comments I knew were coming. From family members to strangers, everyone had something to say: that I would be the first one into Heaven after having to raise all those boys, that at least I could reuse the clothes, that sometimes the test results were mixed up at the doctor and I should really call again.

I dreaded the Target checkout lines and playground benches where people would glance at your brothers and raise their eyebrows at my belly — another boy? — the way their faces twisted into looks of pity when I nodded and smiled. One lady offered me condolences as if it were a death rather than a life, as if your little feet weren’t kicking my ribs right at that moment, your tiny heart thumping away inside of me, miracle that you were. I never had the right thing to say back to them, so let me say it now to you: don’t ever let someone else’s opinion dampen your delight. Because delight is what stirred in me at the thought of your face, at the thought of all you would be. And for the record, I never wanted anyone but you.

You were my easiest delivery, born on your grandmother’s birthday, home just in time for Christmas. The brothers rushed us straight upstairs to their bathroom doorframe and insisted we mark your first line in black sharpie. Twenty-one inches tall.

We gave you a big name, one of saints and kings, and we perched you on the kitchen island where you watched the chaos nobly through furrowed brows. We marveled at the ways in which you were like your brothers (the light peach-fuzzed head, the pouty mouth, the bread-dough rolls of your thighs) and the ways in which you were wholly yourself. You were running at ten months old, nudity always your preference, in constant pursuit of wheels to make you go fasta, fasta! And all I wanted was to slow you down, to freeze your dimpled baby hands that patted my cheek after your bath when I wrapped you up, to forever feel the hot weight of you fallen asleep in my lap.

The bathroom doorframe now shows etchings with your name that go higher than the doorknob. You bound into the kitchen each morning, arms splayed, insisting on cracking the eggs. You get yourself dressed (a tiger costume every day, if you could) and fasten your own shoes (you bite your tongue while you line up the Velcro).

On every tolerable day, you draw with chalk in the driveway while I load the car, while I run back for forgotten water bottles and call for people to finish their cereal. Sometimes your siblings join you with the chalk and sometimes they don’t. Doesn’t bother you either way. I watch you draw winding rattlesnakes and sharks with rainbow dorsal fins. How could it have been anyone but you?

And to those who pitied me for my third son, I pity them, that they will never know how fiercely you dig and how tenderly you hold the worms, how you bust a move to Lady Gaga and pound your chest like King Kong, how you lie on your back and trace the airplane lines in the sky. I wish the whole world could know you like I do. They’d be so much better for it. You are beloved, you are capable, you will do wondrous things. And, best of all, you are mine.

Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and–most of all–a good story.